Updated: Nov 9, 2020
Lucknow: Paddy farmer Rahmuddin is free after 75 days in jail, but his freedom has made him feel vulnerable.
“Me and my family are scared of the police,” said 48-year-old Rahmuddin, after the Allahabad High Court ordered his release on 19 October on cow-slaughter charges that it said the police filed with no evidence.
“We do not know when the police will barge into my house and arrest me again,” Rahmuddin told Article 14. “No innocent person should go through what I faced.”
Rahmuddin was arrested on 5 August 2020 when he and five associates surrendered to the Uttar Pradesh (UP) police after more than two months on the run. His flight began when he heard they were wanted for weighing the meat of a slaughtered cow and packing it into bags.
In a state where cow slaughter has been a crime for 64 years, the case against Rahmuddin, on the face of it, appeared strong, according to police claims.
“Rahmu alias Samsu was weighing the flesh and when his associates saw the police they ran leaving the slaughtered animal behind,” said the first information report (FIR) registered on 25 May in the western UP district of Shamli.
“Two pieces of flesh were found with skin, four legs and a head of a cow-species animal (gauvanshiva pashu in Hindi) were found from the spot which was later buried in the earth after the chief veterinary officer inspected and asked to send the sample separately for investigation,” said the FIR.
Mohammad Nadeem, a veterinary expert who checked the meat found in Rahmuddin’s case refused to comment on the specifics, since the case was in court.
“All I can say is that the meat, if it is found with skin, hair or other body parts, we can identify the animal, but if it is just meat, then it has to be sent to a forensic lab for investigation,” said Nadeem. “No one can conclude anything without forensic investigation.”
‘Material On Record’ Justifies Bail: Judge
Rahmuddin finally surrendered to a court, he said, fearing that the police may register fake cases against him or his sons. The police filed charges against Rahmuddin and his five associates, also arrested and denied bail, under sections 8, 5 (sale of beef) and 3 (cow slaughter) of the Uttar Pradesh Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act, 1955.
Cow slaughter in UP is a non-bailable offence, and a crime of varying degrees in 22 states, although there is no constitutional mandate to prohibit beef consumption, its sale, purchase or transportation, as the Citizens for Justice and Peace, an advocacy, has noted.
On 19 October, as we said, the Allahabad High Court granted Rahmuddin bail.
“Considering the material on record as well as the dictum of Apex Court in the case of Dataram Singh Vs. State of U.P. and another, reported in (2018) 3 SCC 22, larger mandate of Article 21 of the constitution of India, let the applicant involved in the aforesaid case crime be released on bail,” said Justice Siddharth J in the bail order.
Rahmuddin’s lawyer Onkar Singh said that the law against cow-slaughter and the National Security Act (NSA), 1980, was being misused against “innocent people”. He alleged the police routinely claimed any seized meat was beef and suspects stayed in jails for offences they may never have committed.
Singh accused the police of making Muslims special targets in cow-slaughter cases.
More than half the arrests under the NSA in India’s most populous state in 2020 have involved cow-slaughter suspects, according to government data quoted in the Indian Express in September 2020. The NSA allows the police to detain a person without charges for up to a year.
“The NSA has been invoked in 139 cases across Uttar Pradesh, of which 76 have been against the slaughter of cows,” Awanish Awasthi, principal secretary of the home department, said in an August 2020 statement.
Singh told the court that when cows were “recovered”, no proper “recovery memo” that indicates where the cows go is written; that accused in such cases continue in jail for “offences that may not have been committed at all”.
“(The cow-slaughter) Act is being misused against innocent persons,” Singh told the court.
Rahmuddin told Article 14 it was not his first time in jail on cow-slaughter charges.
Second Time In Jail For Rahmuddin
“I am already on bail in a 2012 case when cow meat was found near my farm,” said Rahmuddin, who claimed he was “framed” in that case. “I had to spend 22 days in jail. After eight years I am facing the same thing. The only difference is that this time I have spent 75 days in jail.”
Rahmuddin said he was home when the police said he was packing and weighing beef. “I do not know who the complainant is in my case,” he said. “I am a small farmer but still someone... gets me booked for things that I do not do.”
He said he found out about the FIR against him three days after it was registered when it was reported in a local newspaper.
“I was sitting at a barber shop three days after this alleged cow slaughter took place, and that’s when someone told me that the police were looking for me,” said Rahmuddin. “I didn't do it. I went to my house and then was on the run for two months fearing arrest.”
‘Being Out On Bail Makes Me More Vulnerable’
Rahmuddin said he family “suffered a lot” while he was in jail because a Covid-19 lockdown was in force, and his three sons were in Delhi earning for the family’s livelihood.
“My wife, daughter and daughter-in-law faced a lot of hardship arranging food and other things needed to run a family, while I was in the jail,” said Rahmuddin. “The police case has cost the family about Rs 50,000.”
Fearful of being arrested or hectored by the police, Rahmuddin said he felt vulnerable at home. His lawyer Singh said the police had now “made it a habit” to file new cases against people previously charged, as Rahmuddin is, with cow slaughter.
The police, alleged Singh, showed such people as “absconding” in their records. In Rahumuddin’s case, said Singh, the six suspects had already surrendered to a local court.
“Today, it is very easy for the people to book people under the Prevention of Cow Slaughter Act,” said Singh. “The evidence collected from the spot in cow-slaughter cases is disposed of by the police; neither it is produced in the court nor was any permission taken (bury or dispose off the meat) from the court or competent authority.”
“It becomes easier for the police if the person is Muslim,” said Singh.
(Saurabh Sharma is a Lucknow-based freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.)
Correction: An earlier version of this story interchanged lawyer Satendra Singh’s submission to the court with Justice Siddharth J’s bail order. We regret the error.